The Research Design Service is funded by the National Institute for Health Research to provide design and methodological support to health and social care researchers.
Good Clinical Practice is a set of internationally recognised ethical and scientific quality requirements that must be followed when designing, conducting, recording and reporting clinical trials that involve people: GCP training is a key requirement for anyone involved in the conduct of clinical research.
Involving patients and the public (PPI) is vital in recognising the research priorities in your field of interest. Patients and the public may be involved in consultation and collaboration with your research, or they may be leading and controlling the research. Involve is an organisation funded by the National Institute for Health Research to support public involvement in NHS, public health and social care research.
The Equator Network offers guidelines useful for a range of methodologies and for designing, writing and publishing health research.
If you work for, or are on a placement with, the NHS you can join the Athens Library which gives you access to a wide range of electronic resources, e-journals,e-books and databases including Medline, CINAHL, PsycINFO and Embase.
Also your professional body provides a range of resources and services to support members in their research and development activity.
Types of research
Qualitative Research originates from the social and behavioural sciences. It is used to explore and understand people’s beliefs, behaviour and attitudes. Qualitative methods include discussion/focus groups and interviews. Non-numeric data is collected such as descriptions of spasticity instead of numerical measures of spasticity. Thematic analysis of the data may be used.
Quantitative Research originates from the natural and social sciences. Numerical data is generated and quantitative methods include questionnaire surveys and controlled trials. The data is analysed with statistical formulae.
Mixed Methods Research is a way of using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. It may be employed where a qualitative study precedes to formulate questions to be asked in a quantitative survey questionnaire.
Case studies and clinical trials
Case Studies are in-depth detailed examinations of subjects (cases). They may be linked to any of the research methods above. It is likely that the data will have been collected over a sustained period.
Clinical Trials are experiments carried out in clinical research with a background in biomedical or behavioural sciences. The randomised controlled trial is employed in medical research linked to testing the efficacy of pharmacological agents before they are widely available to the general public.
Health research involving patients should be ethically reviewed and approved. Your local Research Design Service, or Research and Development department, should be able to help you understand if ethical approval is required.
Government policy is that the output of publicly funded research should be made available in the public domain: it is a good idea, therefore, to get used to sharing your research.
Dissemination can be low key, and starting off with a poster at the MS Trust Conference is a good idea, with the MS Trust's guidance on how to share your work through a conference poster being very useful.
Your research may be useful to others working in your field and the NIHR has a dedicated dissemination centre.
Publishing can again be low key: eg. in Synapse by the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Neurology, or in a peer-reviewed journal.
The journals that you identify as good platforms for sharing your research will have guidance on submitting research papers and your professional body may also have tips and guidance, such as for physiotherapy.
Open Door was a free, quarterly newsletter for people with multiple sclerosis, their familes and friends, and supporters of the MS Trust. Each issue reported on the work of the MS Trust and gave a round-up of the most relevant MS news and research projects.
Critical analysis of research
Reviewing research articles
When reviewing research articles the following questions should be considered:
Are the aims clearly stated and are they achieved?
Does the background make reference to previous research done in the field and, therefore, make justification for this new piece of work to contribute to filling a gap in the literature?
Is the methodology and analysis rigorous and valid?
Are the findings ‘generalisable’ to other situations?
Does the article flow: eg. does it cover introduction, background, results/findings, discussion, summary, recommendations?
Are areas for further research identified?
Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP)
CASP approaches appraising research in three steps:
small grants may be identified through your trust, organisation or university and charities may also have funds that you can apply for
your local Research Design Service may offer small grants to support patient and public involvement in the design and implementation of your study
grants may also be available to support you along a clinical academic pathway, which may support the development of your skills as a researcher: these may be through your local university or as part of a National Institute of Health Research programme
ClinicalTrials.gov is a registry and results database of publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants conducted around the world
the Clinical Research Network Portfolio is a database of clinical research studies taking place in the NHS that are funded by the life sciences industry and other funders including charities, central and overseas governments, investigator-initiated commercial collaborative research, as well as by NIHR research programmes